23: This Is My Stop

23: This Is My Stop

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

This Is My Stop

Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.

~Thomas Jefferson

My twenty-three-year-old heart was slowly breaking, as it had been for years. “Caitlin,” my mother sighed into the phone. She paused. I sat waiting. And then she added, “You’re always going to miss the bus.”

I looked down into the lap of my favorite suit — the one that had a black skirt and a royal blue top with chunky black buttons. Tears were burning the corners of my eyes, but I was also trying hard not to snap and yell something unfortunate into the receiver. It was lunch hour, but an unusual number of people were milling about the office. My desk was in the heart of the action. What would people think?

As my mother rattled on about why I shouldn’t go to graduate school in education and why she couldn’t support such a decision, I realized that she was more than 750 miles away but still had an incredible hold on me. That’s when I finally had my moment of clarity. It was a moment that had taken seven years to arrive.

I realized that I couldn’t keep caring what people thought, even if those people included my mother. At some point, I needed to do what felt right to me, even if I did not have one or both parents’ blessing. Going to graduate school in education was something I needed. I knew that, and I had to follow that feeling.

“You know what, Mom? I’ve got to go. I have work to do.”

With complete respect and in total control, I hung up the phone.

It wouldn’t be the last time that my mother told me I was making a mistake, and it wouldn’t be the last time that she got under my skin. But it was the first time that the stakes were high and I succeeded in saying, “Enough!”

I do believe that my mother always felt that she had my best interest at heart — whether we were discussing my need to lose weight, my choice of college, the sorority I was pledging, or the company I was keeping. Gradually, though, I learned that she was letting what she wanted overpower what I needed. And honestly, her work and life experiences were not always deep or broad enough to justify giving her opinions the weight that I had.

So on that afternoon back in 1994, I returned my acceptance to the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. I am so thankful that I did because I’m not quite sure who I would be had I not.

I blossomed during graduate school. One reason that I returned to the institution where I had earned my bachelor of arts was that I wanted to make things right there. I knew that I had not capitalized on my undergraduate experience, in large part because I had not studied what most interested me — education — because my parents made me promise that I would not pursue an education degree. I had studied a lot during my undergraduate years, but my schoolwork was one gigantic, never-ending chore. I had floundered, struggling to find my niche academically and socially.

When I returned as a grad student to study instructional design, I quickly found love: My schoolwork fascinated me, my professors challenged me, and my friends in my program inspired me. The Internet and the Web were gaining a substantial following, and I spent hour upon hour in the computer lab, delighted to be designing Web-based educational tools. My work was so fulfilling that it consumed me, in the best possible way.

The following spring, while sitting in that computer lab that claimed so much of my time, I snagged an internship at Monticello co-developing the first website for Thomas Jefferson’s home. That internship determined my future career path. Sitting in that same chair, I also met the man who is now my husband.

Seventeen years later, Mark and I have a happy life. We are the proud parents of two children, and we have built a home that we cherish in a community that we love. I have been blessed with a variety of work experiences that have kept me on my toes and have allowed me to create products that bring me pride. Through the years, I have taught teachers, librarians, and even preschoolers.

By standing up for myself and trusting my gut, I claimed my life and found happiness. I not only caught the bus, but also loved the ride.

~Caitlin McLean

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